Opinion / Blog

Legends of Shanxi

By anastasiasuli ( Updated: 2015-07-01 17:46

There is a Chinese saying that reads: “If you want to see the thirty-year-old China, you should come to Shenzhen, if you want to see the one-hundred-year-old China, you should come to Shanghai,visit Beijing for one-thousand-year history and to witness five-thousand-year history, come to Shanxi”. Being a cradle for the ancient civilization of China, Shanxi province, standing to the west from Beijing, is a gold mine for legends and folk tales. They had been composed through the centuries, passing from grandfathers to their sons in generations. These people no longer live now, but the locals, with their peculiar hospitality and kindliness, are always eager to share with you the stories from the past of a one-day prosperous, wealthy and royal Shanxi province.

Having hunted enough stories that were kindly narrated by the Shanxi television reporters and our charming guide, I discovered some of them sounded very familiar. I believe no one Chinese language learner escaped being told the story about obstinate Yugong who moved the mountains. Surprisingly, the origins of the story lie in Shanxi. In the northern part of Wangmang Mountains, there lived a man called Yugong. His peaceful existence was disturbed by the two soaring mountains standing right in front of his house. Being a man of strong will, he determined to move the mountains stone by stone. For that, he attracted his family’s young and old alike, so all were involved in this work. He strongly believed in the success notwithstanding being a laughing stock for his neighbors. Nevertheless, he did not give up. His diligence and perseverance were discovered by God. The latter sent two angels as of help to Yugong. With the combined effort, the mountains were relocateded, and since then Yugong’s sprit served an embodiment of strong will and persistence for many generations.

Another story which is more a historical episode, gave the name to one of the Shanxi’s renowned mountains, about Emperor Wang Mang, a Han Dynasty ambitious official who seized the throne. He was not favored by the historians due to his cruel policies and unpopular reforms, but to commemorate a significant historical figure, the mountains were named in his honor. In ancient times, they were dubbed Turtle and Ostrich Mountains due to their peculiar shape. To make everyone even more submissive to his power, he spread the rumour that in the Turtle and Ostrich mountains there was carved the image of “Wang Mang throne” as an omen of his reign. When Liu Xiu with his formidable army came to fight with Wang Mang, they held the battle in the area of the mountains. To protect the dragon’s vein, Wang Mang ordered his army to surround and destroy the enemy’s soldiers. On the desperate straits, Liu Xiu jumped from the cliff. The heavy armor did not let him hurt himself, so he safely landed on another cliff. However, Wang Mang’s army tempted neither by gold nor by money, did not have the courage to follow Liu Xiu. Wang Mang’s army was defeated and Liu Xiu became the new emperor. Since then, to immortalize the great historical events, the Turtle and Ostrich Mountains were renamed into Wangmang Mountains.

Alongside with the legends, historical events and stories, Shanxi gave birth to one of the Chinese holidays, Qixi, the counterpart of western St.Valentine’s Day. This is a story of Weaver Girl and Cowherd which was also overheard by me during our trip. The life of the Cowherd was rather tough, he was deprived of parents and had only an old cow. One beautiful day, his cow seeing the misery of her Cowherd, suggested him finding a wife among the God’s Weaver Girls. When next time he saw the Weaver Girls bathing in the river, he stole one of the girls’ clothing. When all the girls grabbed their dresses, only one Weaver Girl could not find hers. That’s when Cowherd emerged and proposed her to become his wife. They lived long and happily until the moment when the Weaver Girl’s father and mother discovered their disguised place and sent one of their gods to take the Weaver Girl back home, so it was done. The Cowherd was very astonished not finding the Weaver Girl at home. He put on the cow skin that was left after the cow had died, and turned into two kids who started chasing the Weaver Girl. The Goddess seeing that she was being chased after,took out a hairpin and created a Silver River, so known Milky Way, to separate the two lovers. Since then, the Weaver Girl and Cowherd could meet only once a year, every July the 7th according to the Lunar Calendar. Ever after, on this holiday in modern China couples enjoy their romantic time together.

Legends and folk tales are the essential part of every culture and knowing them, you can get a better understanding of people, language and cultural aspects of the place. Penetrating the centuries, legends are still here, to tell us that the history is not only in books. It is on the mouths of people, it is in the smiles of children, it is in the rocks of the mountains and even in the air fused with ancient dust.

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